How to Use a Chop Saw for Fast, Efficient Cuts

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When you have a job that requires small, precise cuts, a chop saw is often the ideal cutting device. These precision saws offer you the ability to make accurate right angle cuts in a variety of materials such as lumber, decking, molding, trim, aluminum, and some metals.

Chop Saw ​Do’s and Don’ts

Using a chop saw is quite flexible, as with the right saw blade, these saws can be used to cut a variety of different material types.

When to Use a Chop Saw

Cutting Metal: This is the tool of choice for cutting metal. You can also cut aluminum and non-ferrous metals as well as lumber and timber. Decking is also a good material choice to cut with a chop saw.You are only limited by the blade force and what material dimensions your chop saw will accept.

Multiple Precise Cuts: Keep in mind that because a chop saw only cuts right angles, you can create a series of precision cuts very quickly. Your chop saw is always ready to make the cut and with some small adjustments, you can work very quickly through a project that only requires right angle cuts.

When NOT to Use a Chop Saw

Large Diameter Pieces: A chop saw is not a good saw for cutting large diameter wood pieces such as plywood. This is far too large for a chop saw, and it will never balance properly with the fences. You’d prefer a suitable band saw or even a ​basic table saw for this type of cut.

Baseboard: A common area of confusion is that a chop saw can be used for cutting baseboard, which is not the case. Because base board needs to be cut at 45 degree angles, you’ll need a miter saw for that.

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​What is a Chop Saw

A chop saw is the perfect tool to make fast, accurate cuts. While it is limited in the angle of cutting it can do, and also limited in the size of material it can cut, it is the best tool to use for cutting long, thin boards, pipe, or metal.

Understanding Your Chop Saw

​It is important that you understand how to use a chop saw and the differences in it compared to a miter saw. Many people refer to miter saws and chop saws interchangeably, because both saws use an overhead cutting process.  The main difference between a chop saw and miter saw is in the flexibility of cuts that each saw can make.  

  • A chop saw makes only one type of cut: straight down at a 90 degree angle to your material.
  • ​A miter saw can cut at a variety of angles. While it utilizes the same downward cutting motion, the angle of cut can be adjusted.

While you may think that you are limited in some capacity with a chop saw, it actually becomes quite handy as you are always set up to make the same, 90 degree cut. Plus, it is a good beginner saw because you only have to worry about one angle of cut and fewer mistakes will be made as a result.  

​A final note: sometimes a table saw will do a better job at the type of cuts you want to do than a chop saw. If you have one, look into which one is best for your specific cut.

two men working on a piece of lumber with a chop saw

Operational Safety

Because the blade is exposed in a chop saw, you need to take extra precautions to remain safe and free of injury when using it.

  • Always wear safety glasses and dust masks in case of kickbacks and splinters. This will also protect your eyes and your lungs from the sawdust that is created as you cut. 
  • ​Make sure you are not wearing loose clothing that could get caught in the blade of the chop saw. Secure your clothing so there is nothing hanging that could get cause injury.
  • As you move the spinning blade downward to cut, you also need to keep fingers and hands out of the way of the blade.
  • Pay attention to cords, or anything else that might work its way into the cutting path of the blade.
  • Work slowly, and don’t get ahead of yourself.

The beauty of the chop saw can also cause it to be more dangerous: using a chop saw is highly efficient and fast, which can create complacency and lead to dangerous mistakes

​Blade Factors and Selection

Before you can begin cutting with your chop saw, you need to find a blade for your specific project. When picking a chop saw blade, you need to consider:

  • ​A blade that properly fits the size of your chop saw
  • ​A blade that is suitable for the material you are cutting

For example, you would need a different blade rating for cutting metal than you would for cutting wood. Using the wrong blade type will cause dulling quickly and prevent you from getting a perfect cut with your chop saw. Sometimes, the wrong blade will make it so that you can’t even cut your material.

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Your saw blade is the essential piece of your chop saw. This really defines what you can cut and how well it will be cut.

Chop saw blades are circular and come in a variety of teeth patterns depending on the material they are rated for. You need to makes sure you select a blade that is specifically for the material you are planning to cut:

  • For more durability, carbide-tipped teeth are recommended as they will wear less and provide a clean cut for a longer duration than other types of blades.
  • Wood blades are inherently different than metal blades as they don’t require additional strength and aggressiveness.
  • Wood blades are rated for different hardness and softness.
  • Be sure to work with the blade that not only fits your chop saw but has been designed for the application you are going to be cutting with.

Once you have determined what blade you need, it needs to be placed on the head of your chop saw carefully and securely. Follow the directions that were provided by the manufacturer of your saw.

How to Use a Chop Saw

Once you’ve ensured you’re using the correct blade, and you have the proper safety precautions, you’re ready to measure your material and prepare the chop saw for cutting. Proper preparation will help ensure you make accurate cuts and don’t have to redo any of your work.

1. Measuring Your Material

Before you start cutting, you need to prep your material that you want to cut. There are two steps you need to take: measuring the length and marking for the cut.

  1. Use a tape measure to accurately measure out the precise length of the cut you want to make. Remember the old woodworkers adage: measure twice and cut once! Mark the correct length with a simple, small notch of a pen or pencil.
  2. ​Next, you need to mark the material for the cut. To do so, take a flat edge or ruler and mark the material where you made your notch. You’ll want to create a straight line that is perpendicular to your material. Some find it easiest to use a protractor to ensure you are making an accurate, 90 degree line.

When done, you should have a straight line running across your material. You will be cutting using the chop saw along this line.

2. ​Setting Up Your Fences

To ensure you cut on the mark that you have set for your material, you need to use the chop saw fences. These fences are there to create a guide for the blade and to secure your material in place.

  1. ​Start by placing your material firmly against the straight fence.
  2. Next, you need need to dial in the protractor fence angle. This will allow you to create a straight cut on your material and provide accuracy that is exactly adjusted to the length you need. You can set this angle by turning the handle that is located on the base of your chop saw.

As you adjust the angle of cut, you’ll notice the blade and base rotate into position to the make the angle cut.

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Check that you have dialed in the correct angle of cut by slowly moving the chop saw blade down onto your marking without the blade operating. This will show you where the line of cut will occur. The chop saw blade should line up exactly with the marks you made on the surface of your material to be cut.

If your blade is not perfectly on the marks, adjust the setting until you dial in your cut line properly. Check the alignment again by pulling your chop saw blade manually down on the mark. Continue this process until you have achieved the precise alignment you need to make the cut with your chop saw.

man carrying a stack of wood from a log

Cutting with a Chop Saw

​Once you’ve ensured you’re using the correct blade, and you have the proper safety precautions, you can start using your chop saw. Cutting with a chop saw is very easy, which is why we highly recommend it as a beginner woodworking saw.

  1. Turn the saw blade on, keeping safety in mind. As you turn on the power, the chop saw blade will begin to spin in place. Take hold of your material piece and press it firmly against the fence with one hand (usually your left hand) and lower the chop saw blade downward with the other hand (usually your right hand).
  2. ​You want to make a seamless motion as you lower the blade and not force it aggressively through the material you are cutting. Allow the blade to do most of the work while you guide it down through the material piece.
  3. ​Push the blade through the material piece until it has completely cut through it. Keep the material still as you cut.
  4. When the cut has been completed, you can pull the chop saw blade back to the upright position. Turn the saw off and then release your material piece from the saw. It should have a seamless and clean cut that is precise to the line your drew.

​If you see signs of a jagged or rough cut, this is an indication that you might need a new chop saw blade. Replace the blade and try your cut again.


​The chop saw is a staple tool to have in your garage. It allows you to make fast, accurate cuts across a variety of materials. It is also one of the most precise tools, and is easier to use than many other saws because of the way it makes its cuts.

​Understanding how to use a chop saw doesn’t have to be difficult if you follow these steps as you work. Each time that you use your chop saw, you will feel more comfortable and be able to get those accurate right angle cuts with ease.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.